MONTEREY COUNTY IS OLD. WITH AGE COMES HISTORY AND, MORE IMPORTANTLY FOR THE SEASON, GHOST STORIES. Some historic locations have been featured in television shows like Ghost Adventures, or have been stops for Ghost Tours of Old Monterey or have become the subjects of chapters in former Monterey County resident Patrick Whitehurst’s new book, Haunted Monterey County. But what’s really haunted, and what can be explained away by history?
“That’s the thing with ghost stories, there are so many but a lot of it is hearsay and hard to verify,” Whitehurst says.
With the help of Whitehurst’s book and some extra snooping, the Weekly checked out a few popular spooky spots to see which stories have historical explanations – and which legitimately give us the creeps.
DEL MONTE HOTEL: When this hotel was originally built in the late 1800s, it kept catching on fire. In one blaze, a firefighter supposedly disappeared. A ghost clad in gray with a goatee – thought to be the missing fireman – is said to appear ascending the stairs even today. Co-workers at the time reportedly verified the apparition was indeed their lost comrade. Some say it’s the ghost of David Jacks, a Monterey land baron who’d previously owned the land the hotel was built on. Other sightings include a socialite who may tap guests on the shoulder, elevators that have “a mind of their own” and lights turning on and off.
The hotel was known for extravagant parties (Salvador Dalí hosted one) so the lady looking for a party is logical. And apparently the fires stopped after the hotel was out of commission for several years, which doesn’t signal a haunting more than a credible cause: a lot of guests and a lack of good fire codes.
SALINAS HIGH SCHOOL BELL TOWER: It is said that after a girl named Jennifer spotted her “boyfriend” Adrian making out with another girl, she threw herself off the Salinas High School Bell Tower, dying by suicide. Students continue to report being approached by Jennifer, asking if they can say goodbye to Adrian for her before vanishing. Other unexplained activities include custodians and students hearing footsteps, a rolling pencil or the sobs of a young girl with no apparent source. While the history here is unverified, the all-too-familiar drama of teenage heartache is easy to believe. Whitehurst hasn’t found a definitive year for when Jennifer died, and notes that the stories are all different. “But they’re kids, so I take that with a grain of salt,” he says. “It feels more like a legend.”
CARMEL MISSION: It’s a church built on the labor of enslaved native people. It has a graveyard. Plus, many priests lived and died here, including Saint Junipero Serra. Does that mean it’s haunted? Maybe. A poem has been written about Serra’s saintly spirit coming to perform midnight mass because his ghost visits frequently. Other sightings have included a Native American boy wandering the grounds and even a horseman on a white mount, which may or may not be headless.
Given that missions were built to give a religious centering to the Spanish empire in the “New World,” the mission represents the best and worst parts of empire building – the best being having a lasting monument of shared local culture and the worst being the bloody path it took to make those monuments, mostly at the expense of indigenous people, children included.
OLD STAGE ROAD: The story of this road is downright disturbing, whether it’s true or not. In the late 1800s or early 1900s, it is said that a woman accepted a ride from a man in a horse-drawn buggy on this road. Even back then, accepting a ride from a stranger was ill advised – he reportedly raped her and then decapitated her, leaving her body and her head in a nearby field. Internet forums are filled with tales of first-hand encounters with this woman, who comes back to walk on the road, carrying her head. Some drivers have said they don’t just see her, she appears in their empty passenger seat and then disappears. Others report hearing a woman’s screams late at night. “The fact that there are a lot of stories on this road, it appears that there is something going on,” Whitehurst says. “All of them seem pretty creepy.” But he notes it is a remote agricultural area, and sightings may be as simple as seeing a figure standing alone in a field at night.
STOKES ADOBE: Named after the second owner of this historic building, James Stokes, it’s fitting there are spooky stories. Stokes was cruel in more ways than one. He is believed to have masqueraded as a physician after jumping ship with a stock of stolen medicine. Posing as a doctor, he more often killed his patients than cured them. His most famous patient, Gov. José Figueroa, died within a year of being treated by Stokes.
Stokes married the widowed Maria Josefa Soto, whose late husband he had treated. (Coincidence?) He fathered two children with Soto.
There have been diverging theories on how Stokes himself died. One version says he hanged himself. The other, more likely version is that he poisoned himself in front of his sons after they caught him sexually abusing his daughter.
The adobe later became the home of Hattie Gragg who, along with her husband, hosted elaborate parties in the building. Their legacy continued when the building was repurposed into several restaurants, the most recent being Restaurant 1833. That business shuttered in 2017 and the building is once again for sale.
Restaurant employees have reported sightings of Stokes himself on the stairs, as well as a disembodied woman’s voice calling waiters’ names. They report feeling cold spots in certain areas of the building and that mirrors, furniture or drinking glasses have been moved without explanation.
In this case, even Whitehurst tends toward believing the supernatural: “That fact that it has opened and closed so many times lends credence to this idea that it’s cursed or haunted.”
LOS COCHES ADOBE: Established first as a ranch in the 1840s, this adobe in Soledad has been in the middle of history many times. It failed as a ranch when a drought in the early 1800s suffocated the Salinas Valley. It was then converted into an inn and brothel. It was at one point a post office and stage station for Wells Fargo riders. The number of sightings and happenings here are a little too frequent, even before Ghost Adventures came to investigate in 2015.
There are reports of cries coming from underground that some have attributed to trapped miners – or to the souls of murdered men who were rooming in the adobe and whose bodies were reportedly dumped into the nearby well. Both versions, Whitehurst says, involve the infamous Tiburcio Vásquez, a Monterey native and a Robin Hood-type figure – or a villain, depending who you ask.
Other sightings include men in Old Western garb. The most menacing, however, is the Lady in Black. Some have concluded she is a witch while others have reasoned she was probably the madam of the brothel at some point. Either way, with either her bony finger or a stick, she’s been spotted pointing in the direction of the well, waiting for onlookers to notice. Some guests say that she laughs at them when she notices how horrified they look.
Whitehurst proclaims in his book that Los Coches Adobe is the “most haunted” place in Monterey County: “The number of stories is what sets it apart.”